Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 30, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 46 of 55 OCT. 30, 2017 47 MEN'S BASKETBALL BY LOU SOMOGYI F or 17 years, the identity of the Notre Dame men's basketball program under head coach Mike Brey has been consistent. The first is supreme passing and shooting that annually results in one of the nation's best assist-to-turnover ratios and offensive efficiency rates. The second is defense that is more about damage control, mainly be- cause the efficiency and emphasis on offense can compensate. There might be some tweaks to the identity in the 2017-18 season. "What I'm interested in is who we'll be offensively — and that's very unusual for me to say with this program," Brey said after his team began practice in October. Two of the reasons are the insertion of junior Rex Pflueger (6-6, 206) and sophomore T.J. Gibbs (6-3, 188) into the starting rotation, replacing the graduated tandem of Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, who helped lead Notre Dame to two Elite Eight ap- pearances (2015 and 2016), an ACC championship in 2015 and a tourna- ment runner-up finish last year. Pflueger and Gibbs — who join seniors Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell and Martin Geben in the starting five — have built their identities so far mainly on defense. Each averaged 4.6 points per game last season in reserve roles, but defense was their forte, and how consistent they can now be as shooters and scorers is a mystery, for now. "I have a better feel for who we are on the defensive end right now," Brey said. "We've grown in that area the last couple of years and with Gibbs and Pflueger in there, there's a real pride in how we guard. "Can we get some stuff and can we turn some people over and get some easy buckets? That's usually not how we've done business here. I think we may be able to do that and maybe that takes some pressure off how we're shooting the ball." Vasturia and Beachem combined for 27.6 points per game and 145 three-pointers last year, while help- ing Notre Dame rank No. 1 in the 15-team ACC in made treys. "Shooting left the building with V.J. and Steve," Brey said. "I think Rex and T.J. will shoot it at a com- parable number, but who are they going to be from out there? "A guy coming off the bench that can really step up and stroke it, that's where he can really, really help us." The top two candidates for that role would be 6-6½, 220-pound fresh- man D.J. Harvey and 6-7, 211-pound sophomore Nikola Djogo, who red- shirted last season. "D.J. is physically ready to do it," said Brey, whose history generally has been to ease freshmen into the rotation. "He's got a great mid-range game. He's got a great stroke. He can be a little bit of a shooter for us. "He also rebounds with anybody for his size. … The good thing about it is he's played with all old guys this summer who kind of told him and kind of coached him when I'm not around." As for Djogo (pronounced Joe Go), the southpaw has a classic shooting stroke and possesses good enough athletic skills to help some at the point, which is what the Canadian did in spurts in high school. "Nik had a very good summer," Brey said. "We have him handling the ball. … We kind of forced Nik into that. It's really helped him. He had a little bit of an issue not taking care of the ball his freshman year. "He's better with the ball. He's had to do more." One other role he sees changing in 2017-18 is the personality of the team. Whereas Vasturia and Beachem last year were even-keeled, this year 's top quartet of Colson, Farrell, Pflueger and Gibbs possess much more high-strung personalities. "I've talked with Matt Farrell about that as the quarterback and the senior — I don't want to take any of your juice away," Brey said. "Your talk in the huddles may have to be a little different than what it's been before. Last year, we had Steve and V.J. They were like listening to jazz in the huddle. They brought everybody else down. "I'm thinking I guess I'm the jazz guy right now, and maybe Matt Far- rell can join me." Whatever the music, Brey and his team have been hitting mainly the right notes the past several years. ✦ IDENTITY ADJUSTMENT Defense might take on more presence than offense for now The insertion of junior guard Rex Pflueger (pic- tured) and sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs into the starting lineup gives the Irish a strong defensive presence and "a real pride in how we guard" according to head coach Mike Brey. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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